Is Photography Art?
"You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
- Ansel Adams
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Always an interesting (indeed, a provocative) question. Whenever it’s asked - and it’s never asked of paint-slingers - there’s contention. Pushback. Though, lately I’ve been pondering the “rules" - or lack thereof - for creative fire. There’s a bumper-sticker, Art Saves Lives, countered by Van Gogh’s ear, so pigeonholes are for pigeons, and since I'd no idea I would mention pigeons, it's clearly a jump ball. Writing is art, speaks to it, and while it can "save" now and then, it, like all forms, can also drive one to chaperoned time in a straight-jacket.
That said, the other day someone asked about pictures, whether they’re art. Pictures, they’re there, said this soul, and because they’re there, readily available, it dulls the creative side. Yeah, painters catch what’s “there” - birds, trees, hills - but they brush, manipulate, “emotionally layer,” a committed - and thus more creative - process.
He said that.
And he’s right---sorta. Painting and sculpting do demand technique. But so does lassoing cattle. And hand-washing fruit. And anything in which the goal is to perform in a thorough way. Painting is one art genre, sculpture another, and photography yet another, I said, each beholden to shared values across time. Yes, anyone can point-and-click, but anyone can sling paint - Hail, the Abstract Form! - slap glitter here and there, and, in a Picasso-esque trance, call it art.
And it’s true.
I’m correct, because that isn’t art any more than grabbing a phone, cueing the camera, and scatter-clicking bumper-stickers makes you John Muir or Ansel Adams. True, one man’s masterpiece is another's WTH?, but can we please stop calling every face-palm and goofy thing-a-ma-jig art? Not everything spawned by impulse and co-opting clay, paint, and/or severed Barbie heads is the real deal. Books have been written... Ears sliced.
Where was I? Oh, photography—is it art? Yes, if done well. This can’t be overemphasized. Well done—and not like steak. (Well done steak isn’t art.). Photography - and here you may substitute the words: painting, sculpture, lawn care, and brain surgery - requires, like all aesthetic form, creative vision. And it’s here, among shadow, among light and angles (so close to angels!) where the easy, the readily accessible, the simple “there,” becomes that.
What makes this photo shine?
Why can I not divert?
And when I do, I still see… still remember... and it alters how I sense and construct the world?
That’s artistry. Thatthing… The merging of elements, the orchestration of style, the capture of timelessness too deep to comprehend. When excellence is mastered, uniqueness roars and work exquisitely crafted is made. That’s beauty captured. That’s Art created.
And photography qualifies, Clickers, it belongs—a camera no less a conduit to heaven than was a brush in the palm of Van Gogh.
- Greg Halvorson, Halvorsong Photo
Photo credits: Greg Halvorson .