Photography, that’s not real art

Fine art is a genre of the visual still arts. It includes drawing, painting, photographic art and other art that results in pictures and crafts that can be exhibited as pictures can. Art is created out of imagination, perception and craftsmanship. With drawing and painting, a lot of emphasis is placed on craftsmanship. However a perceptive eye makes all the difference in “wow factor”, through subject matter. While a perceptive eye is a natural talent, it is dwarfed by that of imagination.

Great craftsmanship skills of a sketcher or painter are much like the investigative photographer where the technical reproduction is paramount—more a science than an art! Bring in perception and imagination and you cross the barrier from science to art, particularly with photography. With traditional pre-digital photography, there was quite a variance in craftsmanship that formed part of the assessment in quality of art. However today’s accurate automation, quality equipment (available to the general community) and digital rendering has created difficulties in finding work standing out the way it used to in the old media of film. Photographic art assessment must now move more towards creative concepts and intuitive interpretation of ideas. This is much more pronounced in photographic fine arts than traditional sketched and painted art, where technology is not involved. However the concept of modern art introduced intuitive interpretation of ideas long before digital photography. You could say new digital photographic art is doing to traditional photography, what modern art did to contemporary art in the drawing and painting genre of fine art.

Two newer categories which have emerged in photography are digital art and alternate reality. Digital art is about emulating painted art from photography and computerisation. Introducing less realism and more creative interpretation in the image rendering process regardless of the subject matter, as well as expanding the concepts of abstract image art. Digital filters are often employed to reduce the accurate realism in rendering to the concept of painted interpretation with deliberate distortion of reality in the rendering of an image to a physical picture. A good result will have an audience asking “is it a print of a painting, or digital photo art work”!

Alternate reality on the other hand generally adheres to matching reality in the rendering process but skews the reality of the subject matter into creative interpretation. Much the same as modern fine art did to contemporary fine art. Photographic adjudicators have to think craftsmanship and/or intuitive interpretation. With the variance in craftsmanship diminishing as the power of digital control evens the traditional playing field of craftsmanship, assessment of the value as fine art must shift to how the creativity impacts on the viewer, which is tied in with intuitive interpretation—your understanding of what is implied and how that impacts on you.

Digital technology and rendering processes have provided new tools to get those creative and imaginative fantasies from the mind to the paper in the realistic rendering photography is unique for. No doubt traditional photography is starting to feel like a lead boot to the imaginative mind. It is not too difficult to image such artists would feel a little frustrated when exhibition, or competition criteria prevent them from using such techniques to render their creativity to its’ full potential. However the tide is turning and eventually it might be the traditional photographic artist that will start to feel a little frustrated for being left behind. This is already evident by the increase in these new photographic art categories and attitudes in adjudication.

Not all photography is considered as art. Nature, wildlife, photojournalism, sport, science and engineering are a few photographic genres where any concept of art is provided by nature rather than the photographer. Much of this type of photography is visual documentation of a moment frozen in time. The art is in the ability of the photographer to see the shot then capture it. This is where you might hear the traditional art lover say “Photography, that’s not real art”. However this type of photography has made its mark in history and is not going away any time soon—if ever. Here are a couple of links to illustrate the subtleties in a definition of artist creativity verses natures art in visual documentary. If any become broken links please let me know.

Artists creativity fine art
Artists creative enhancement of nature as fine art
Photographic visual documentation of reality highlighting natures art

The difficulty comes when traditional photographic documentation is pitted against newer digital creatively manipulated photographic art in competition for awards. It should never be done; it is as different as photographic art is to pained art and they are never pitted against each other in competition for awards. Photography has the unique distinction of being both an art and a science, so can be treated in both camps but the scientific genre of photography should never be pitted against, or confused with the artistic one. The biggest challenge on the science side is detecting an altered works that is given as documentary evidence!

This article was researched and written by Gavin Lardner CC BY 2011.


2 responses to “Photography, that’s not real art

    • Yes nature and wildlife photography is art in the broader sense. Any thing that entertains one in recreation could be considered art. I am looking for a term to categorise the type of art! The art in a good wild life image is in the ability of the photographer to present an image that scores highly with the viewers in terms of the photograph composition, lighting, element contrasts and conflicts and technical quality. Whereas I refer to fine art here as also having an artists creativity added to it, either of intuitive interpretation, or visual effects creating a surreal ambience. It is a fine line and art is a very lose term and often open to interpretation, so I thank you for brining this up.

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