Photography as art

I’m starting section 2, Fine Art Photography and have read through the notes and started thinking very tentative thoughts about the assignment. The content of this section is somewhat curious, with a significant chunk focusing on photography and feminism, which is undoubtedly an important subject but covered here in such depth to the exclusion of other topics that it had me scratching my head a little. I’m sure it’ll make more sense when I’ve done it.

The other thing to get off my chest early so I can move on is the selection of example photographers: mostly good, appropriate, inspiring but occasionally baffling. In the same way as I was bewildered by the inclusion of art-photography pioneer Stieglitz in the Social Documentary section, I find myself wondering why Eugene Atget and Richard Billingham (Ray’s A Laugh) are included in the Fine Art Photography section – I understand the interplay between documentary and art but feel that the inclusion of these ‘edge cases’ is mainly to provoke this kind of response in the reader…! Presumably there’s method in their madness and at the end of this section I will come back here for a mea culpa moment.

Appreciating art

I recently read a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting book, Hugh Moss’ The Art of Understanding Art (2015) which has turned out to be a very useful context-setter for this part of the course.

The course notes include a couple of lines that summarise the point well, although I confess it wouldn’t have meant quite so much to me if I hadn’t read the Moss book: “[A]rt is a sensual experience – both for the practitioner and for the receiver. Art is created when work is done on or to objects that interact with one or a combination of the senses to promote an emotional, and/or intellectual feeling or reaction.” (G&M course notes: 54)

The premise of the Moss book is that art is a process not a product (Moss 2015: 45) – and a process with the lofty aim of enhancing consciousness (ibid: 48).

The artwork itself is only one part in what he describes as a 5-stage process:

  • Artist vision
  • Artist technique (creation)
  • Art object
  • Audience technique (reaction)
  • Audience vision (translation of reaction into enhanced consciousness)

This view of appreciating art is both simple and quite profound. It puts a framework around the often-repeated claim that art is a ‘dialogue’ between artist and audience. It also de-emphasises the art object itself; it is not the end point, merely a conduit for expressing the artist’s ideas. It places as much emphasis on the audience as the artist or the object. I like this.

‘Audience technique’ and ‘audience vision’ might seem like strange concepts but they correlate to the course notes’ description of the role of the ‘receiver’ in processing and experiencing “an emotional, and/or intellectual feeling or reaction“.

This world view reframes the question: “But is it art?” (and it does usually start with “but”…) away from the object and onto the message. Better questions are: Why do you think the artist chose to do this? What is the artist trying to express?How does it make you feel? Will you remember it, and if so, why?

Reading modern and contemporary art through this lens is very enlightening. One can stop over-thinking whether an unmade bed is art and engage with the ideas it represents.

Anyway, I thought it was a highly appropriate book to read before starting on this section.

Sources

Moss, H. (2015) The Art of Understanding Art: A New Perspective. UK: Profile Books.

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