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Yes, but is it art? - A Singular Voice
great_eye
great_eye
Yes, but is it art?
Yes, but is it art?

I've heard a story, apocryphal probably, about the modern abstract painter who has his agent over to see his latest piece. The agent went rapturous over what he thought was the latest piece, only to be told by the chagrined painter that the agent had mistaken the canvas on which the artist cleaned brushes for the latest painting.



goodtexan loved the 'teaser' photo of Kelvin in yesterday's post. Truth be told, so do I. But the resulting photo was not intentional. So, is it art? I'm careful about classifying my photos. Documentary photos of Kelvin, for instance, are, imho, merely snapshots. Even this shot, carefully set up, lit and VERY intentional is more of a snapshot than art in my mind.



For my photo work to earn my labeling it 'art' or 'artistic', there are several things that need to be present.

1) A certain aesthetic, based on color, contrast or mood.

2) A compositional aesthetic.

3) A meaning or message that I see in the work and which I hope to communicate to the viewer. This message may be simple and obvious i.e. this is beautiful or it may be subtle i.e. longing for and appreciation of simple joys as in childhood.

But how to classify happy accidents or serendipitous occurrences?

This shot below for instance, my autofocus focused on the wine glass by mistake. I LOVE the result, and it easily meets the requirements I listed above. But I have a hard time being proud of it, or wanting to label it artistic, knowing, as I do, that I had very little to do with it.


Another example, below, is perhaps my most favourite photo ever. I've entitled it 'Empty' and not only does it easily meet my first two criteria, but as to the third, meaning, it seems multi-layered and has both emotional and intellectual components. But it feels more serendipitous than intentional. Yes, I was taking reflection photos in the McDonalds ceiling, looking for a different perspective in this New York fast food place. Yes, I carefully composed the photo with the main aisle and lights specifically placed on the diagonal. But, all the other photos I took were filled with people. My intention was to show a different perspective on the city crowds - kinda like a carnival fun-house mirror perspective on the crowds, and I unintentionally got this quiet, bleak moment that I fell completely in love with.


Yesterday's Kelvin shot leaves me with this same ambiguous feeling. I LOVE the result, but as the photographer, I sure wish I planned it.


Can happy accidents be art? I *guess* so, maybe?
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Comments
From: ex_chose Date: May 31st, 2006 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
definitely!
that shot of the wine glass is pure genius, even though it wasn't voluntary.
From: ex_chose Date: May 31st, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
part of being a good photographer is also managing to take gorgeous "accidental" pictures. trust me, lots of people take accidental shots, and most of them come out as crap. yours? perfection.
great_eye From: great_eye Date: May 31st, 2006 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! But to be perfectly honest, most of mine are the same crap as everyone else's. Witness the 2000+ frames of Kelvin pictures that will never see the light of day! Generally it's about 50 frames of Kelvin to get 2 to 5 that are worthwhile to post.

I'm as persistent and tenacious in getting a good shot as Kelvin is at getting what he wants. (Let's all take a moment to thank the heavens he doesn't have opposible thumbs!)
sculplady From: sculplady Date: May 31st, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Absolutely...

Positively, undeniably, without a doubt, YES! I once found a large amount of multi-colored tissue paper that had been folded and stuffed away in a closet for years. At some point, part of it had gotten wet. When I opened the papers, I had discovered some amazing, incredible, absolutely stunning patterns that had developed as a result of the water stain. I made many, many, many attempts to try and reproduce this and I barely came close. I also know of an artist (embarassed that I can't remember his name) who was fascinated with randomness. At one point, his art consisted of throwing up bits of paper into the air, and wherever they landed on his canvas or paper, laid on the floor beneath them, was where he would glue them down. Why not include the discovery of the unintended as part of the process?
I definitely think that intention is only one piece of the big picture of art. When someone looks at your art and sees something totally unexpected that you never 'intended' as your message?
great_eye From: great_eye Date: May 31st, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Absolutely...

(I wish I could have photographed that stained tissue.)

That's a very interesting point you make about randomness. Many of my photos are examinations into pieces of random visual interest, so why should it make a difference if the randomness is in front of the camera or in the camera.

The necessity of 'intentionality' is obviously only one that affects the artist his/herself. No one would know that the three examples were unintentioned if I didn't mention it. And as an artist yourself, you are obviously as familiar with how often a viewer's interpretation can be as far from the artist's intent as possible.

Thanks, these are exactly the types of things that were the unformed blobs of thought swirling in my mind when I wrote this post, and I love getting your take on it!
sculplady From: sculplady Date: May 31st, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Absolutely...

anytime! :)
thistles From: thistles Date: May 31st, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
What about film and theater? Is acting "art?" I have heard from my many hours of watching Inside the Actors Studio that half the battle is setting up a situation in which a serenditous happy accident can take place.

I am definiely in that camp of people who have lots of photographic accidents and they all look crappy. I'm no artist or photographer and I admire your work tremendously, even the ones that take themselves.
great_eye From: great_eye Date: May 31st, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great thought! I'm thinking and defining things too narrowly, aren't I?

As an artist in a fixed medium, I think I did not see the bigger picture, and my attitude towards my own art will probably benefit from examining the perspective of performance arts.

great_eye From: great_eye Date: May 31st, 2006 06:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thanks for the thoughtful comments y'all!

You reminded me of the one valuable thing I got from a week long photography seminar/workshop I went to a couple of years ago (yes, only one valuable thing - lucky for me I won my place in the seminar and didn't pay $1500 dollars for what was mostly a waste of time).

The instructor was telling us of one workshop where a student accidentally left her camera on an underexposed setting when she set out for the day. She threw the three rolls of ruined film for the day into the trash. The instructor found them, examined them and liked the photos so much that he showed them all that evening at the end of the day 'share the photos' session.

The workshop participants and other instructors were wowed. Everyone loved the moodiness the photographer had acheived by pushing the film exposure. The photographer who had thought her day's shooting had been ruined (because nothing on the film was what she had intended or expected to see) found instead her work was a hit.

As a photographer, there is a special satisfaction when you see a frame that came out exactly as your mind's eye painted it. It's hard to see beyond that when the picture you are looking at is nothing like your intent. For that reason, sometimes I go back and review pictures I took years ago, and I often find surprising treasures in among the discards. I just needed fresh perspective to find them.
flurgh From: flurgh Date: May 31st, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that the same thing goes for most artistic endevours as it does for music. Take jazz for example. Sometimes you're playing a solo, and a neat lick just comes out that you've never conciously played before. You're not going to treat that moment as if "well i just did it on accident", somewhere back in the parts of the brain that we don't conciously use, you learned that phrase and out it came.

I personally like "happy accidents" better than "I spent 20min trying to find the right f-stop/shutter speed combination". I guess that's also why I like jazz music. It's reactionary.
trope From: trope Date: June 1st, 2006 02:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Intentionality

I question this focus on intentionality on both ends of its spectrum: the end where we feel if we "work hard enough" on a project it will be high art, and the feeling that a creation is not "real art" if we made it carelessly or without a high degree of control. I've never had much training as an artist, and a big part of making art is recognizing why a certain creation might hit an audience a certain way. So when I take a good snapshot I can say, "Ooo! Pretty!" but I don't have a lot of background in guessing how other viewers might react to it. In another person's hands, it might be art, but without an audience it's just a picture.

There was more to this, less on-topic, but I get antsy when I talk about art so I'll just listen for a while.
great_eye From: great_eye Date: June 2nd, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Intentionality

I find it interesting that so many people I know won't engage in discussions on the philosophical nature of art. It's like a taboo subject. Many people I've tried to open such discussions with will venture a timid opinion, then qualify it with a lengthy disclaimer that they have no training as an artist or in art appreciation etc. and then become mute. I wonder why this is.

As to our point on intentionality, I think that the reason intentionality is something I'm very aware of is because my medium is essentially a technological and ubiquitous one. What separates my 'art' from the mass of photographic snapshots taken everyday? I guess it is only my aesthetic sensiblility. So when the aesthetic is merely the result of an accident not intention, it feels somehow different to me.
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